© Josh Sager – July 2013
Yesterday, Private Bradley Manning was convicted of 19 out of 21 charges for his release of classified information to the media. If given the top sentence for each count, Bradley Manning will be sentenced to over 130 years in prison. Today, the sentencing phase of the trial begins and the colonel who presided over the trial (as well as decided the verdict) will hear witnesses in order to determine what Manning’s eventual fate will be.
This resolution to the Bradley Manning case is a terrible miscarriage of justice and indicative of a larger attack on people who would promote accountability to power. Not only is Bradley Manning a whistleblower who should never have been charged with a crime, but those who committed the crimes that he exposed have been allowed to walk free (without as much as an independent investigation).
While Manning was not found guilty on the top count of “Aiding the Enemy”—thus preventing the government from executing him—his pre-trial mistreatment and conviction send a very serious message to potential whistleblowers: If you leak information which harms or embarrasses the administration, you will be charged in a draconian manner and face life in prison.
By mistreating, overcharging, and imprisoning Manning, the government has used him as an object lesson to dissuade people who would dare become whistleblowers of government misdeeds. To me, this is no different than when criminal enterprises use “snitches get stitches” paraphernalia to intimidate witnesses to crimes. In both cases, an organization which is engaged in criminal activity is trying to silence those who reveal criminal conduct by its members to the proper authorities.
The Case of Bradley Manning
Manning leaked a large quantity of information to the media, including proof of war crimes which the United States military had illegally covered up. The “collateral murder” videos clearly showed American helicopter pilots shooting at unarmed civilians—including children, journalists, and first responders. These killings were not on a battlefield and they were a clear violation of several international agreements on conduct during war (ex. Article 85 of the Geneva Convention).
It is illegal to cover up war crimes and Manning should not have been prosecuted for his attempts to circumvent the chain of command after his superior officers made it clear that they wouldn’t look into the incident (in fact, it would have been illegal under international law if Manning were to be complicit in the cover-up). Despite the letter of the law in this situation, the officers who illegally covered the events up have not, and will not, face charges for their actions.
In a fair world, Manning should be free today and those who committed or covered up war crimes should be in jail—unfortunately, the world isn’t fair and Manning is now serving time for committing the terrible “crime” of embarrassing those in power.
The government claims that Manning’s revelations were treasonous and damaging to national security but there is little evidence to back this up. All publically available information about the consequences of Manning’s data leaks indicates that his actions had two major consequences, neither damaging to the US:
- The Arab Spring: While Manning doesn’t deserve sole credit for the Arab Spring, his leaks were a major factor in their initial formation. By revealing proof of the corruption of governments, Manning helped catalyze the democratic protests in the Middle East which led to the toppling of several long-standing dictators. If anything, the USA should be thanking Manning for his part in furthering the USA’s stated goal of promoting democracy in the Middle East (not that anybody actually believes that democracy is really a priority to those in power).
- Embarrassment for US Military Leaders: The revelation of war crimes and bad conduct by the military, as well as how the military illegally covered up said crimes, was a major embarrassment to the US military. Unlike with other, government-sponsored, data-leakers (ex. the “unnamed Whitehouse official” who leaked the existence of the kill list and STUXNet virus), Manning leaked things which the government didn’t want revealed, thus he became a target for retaliation.
At no point has any government official been able to link Manning’s release of information with any blown covers or operations. Officials and politicians have certainly made the blanket claims that Manning’s actions caused harm to the USA but, when pressed for details, they are unable to give specifics or they default to saying that such evidence is classified.
Because Manning admitted to his “crimes” before the trial, much of the prosecutor’s case was focused upon proving the “aiding the enemy” charge. This charge was based upon the unprecedented claim that, because Bin Laden and other terrorists read the news and received publically-available information, Manning was guilty of directly passing information to terrorists. Under this interpretation of the law, every journalist who reports information which is not officially sponsored by the government becomes a potential aider and abettor of espionage.
Numerous non-partisan civil rights and free press organizations have decried the Manning verdict, none more succinctly than Amnesty International:
“The government’s priorities are upside down. The US government has refused to investigate credible allegations of torture and other crimes under international law despite overwhelming evidence.”
“Yet they decided to prosecute Manning who it seems was trying to do the right thing – reveal credible evidence of unlawful behaviour by the government. You investigate and prosecute those who destroy the credibility of the government by engaging in acts such as torture which are prohibited under the US Constitution and in international law.
–Amnesty International Press Release—
In the “stop snitching” and “snitches get stitches” campaign, criminals use t-shirts and threatening language to intimidate people into not reporting their crimes. By invoking a threat of consequences, these criminals hope to dissuade well-meaning people from reporting their crimes to those who can punish them. With the persecution of Bradley Manning, the government is waging its own “stop snitching” campaign, only, instead of stitches, people who “snitch” on the government to the American people face life in an 8×12 cell.
While it is unrealistic to hope that President Obama has enough principled integrity or bravery to do so, Obama should immediately pardon Bradley Manning (as Bush did with “Scooter” Libby after his trial) of all crimes and open an independent investigation into the war crimes perpetrated during the Iraq and Afghanistan wars.
It is certainly true that Manning violated numerous military rules and should have been immediately discharged after the leaks came to light, but he should never have seen the inside of a courtroom.